Mechanics Union

For the first time since talks broke off a month ago, Northwest Airlines Inc. and its striking mechanics union will meet this week.

The two sides don't plan to hammer out a new contract during the meeting, the company and the union said Tuesday. But a meeting Thursday could serve as a prelude to another round of talks, as the bitter strike at Northwest stretches into its eighth week.

The Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association's negotiators and Northwest "have agreed to meet for the purpose of reviewing where the parties stand and to determine whether the current issues can be resolved," the union said in a message to members Tuesday.

Northwest confirmed the intent of the meeting.

"The parties have agreed to meet Thursday to review the status of bargaining and what options remain, if any, for resolution of the ongoing strike," Northwest spokesman Kurt Ebenhoch said.

The airline had told the union that it is still open to negotiating "provided AMFA has had a change in its bargaining position," the union told members Monday.

The airline has been resolute in its demands for millions of dollars in cuts, which AMFA has said are unacceptable.

"It may be" the mechanics "choose to go down fighting. Or it may be that they see little point in that at this point in time," said Harley Shaiken, professor at the University of California at Berkeley, specializing in labor issues. The two sides, Shaiken said "need to talk to get some sense of that."

The last round of talks between Northwest and the mechanics union crumbled shortly after midnight Sept. 11, after the two sides couldn't agree on severance pay.

The union wanted 20 weeks of severance pay, but the airline would not offer more than 16 weeks. The issue of severance is an important one to mechanics because the company's proposal would have cut 75 percent of the union's membership at the airline, including all of its plane cleaners.

In all, the airline wanted AMFA to cut $203 million a year through wage cuts, layoffs and changes to work rules, leaving 1,080 mechanics working at Northwest.

On Aug. 20, the airline's 4,400 mechanics, aircraft cleaners and custodians went on strike, protesting $176 million in layoffs that would have cut its workforce in half and 25 percent wage cuts.

Since then, the union says about 50 mechanics have crossed the picket line, and many have found new jobs.

Ebenhoch said by the end of last month, the airline had permanently replaced more than 50 percent of its striking union mechanics.

On Sept. 14, Northwest filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, blaming in part skyrocketing jet fuel prices and its industry high labor costs.

The filing puts more pressure on Northwest's other unions to make concessions. The airline's CEO, Doug Steenland, has told employees that the airline plans to ask U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Allan L. Gropper to terminate its union contracts "in the near future." Courts often act in less than 60 days in terminating contracts, he wrote.

The airline wants to extract $1.4 million in concessions from its union employees.